By Danny Restivo, DMGS
Edited by Brett Goldman, DMGS Manager of Special Projects
The popular ride-sharing service Uber introduced a fleet of driverless vehicles to Pittsburgh in September 2016. Days after the launch, President Barack Obama wrote an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and praised Uber for its innovation and effort to improve safety. “…Too many people die on our roads – 35,200 last year alone – with 94 percent of those the result of human error or choice. Automated vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year.”
Uber’s program comes eight months after the United States Department of Transportation announced a multi-billion dollar investment into the technology. In January 2016 Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx unveiled a $4 billion, 10-year plan to accelerate driverless technology. “We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” Foxx said in a statement announcing the plan.
In light of the federal government’s investment, Google, Ford, BMW, Tesla, Volvo and General Motors have all begun developing similar driverless programs. As the technology edges closer to highways, the federal government has paved the way for autonomous vehicles to hit the road. On September 20, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released proposed guidelines and benchmarks for driverless vehicles. The announcement received applause from the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which represents Ford, Uber, Lyft, Volvo and Google. The coalition’s leadership also acknowledged the need for other regulatory entities to follow their lead.
“State and local governments also have complementary responsibilities and should work with the federal government to achieve and maintain our status as world leaders in innovation,” David Strickland, coalition spokesperson and general counsel, said in a statement following the NHTSA’s announcement. “With the guidance now publicly available, we encourage state policymakers to engage with our coalition to develop the appropriate policy solutions, and we stand ready to provide support and expertise for both technological and policy questions.”
The Obama administration’s guidelines provide 15 benchmarks companies must meet before their driverless vehicles can hit the road. Those benchmarks include operational functions and safety procedures. However, the NHTSA has given automakers and tech companies flexibility to meet those benchmarks, as long as detailed explanations are given. While the federal government’s proposal provides a framework, several states have already approved or introduced laws regulating autonomous vehicles. Legislative bodies in Nevada, Michigan, Tennessee, California, Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah, Florida and Washington, D.C., have all approved laws related to driverless vehicles. Meanwhile, Arizona’s governor wrote an executive order in August 2015 that supported efforts to test driverless cars on public roads. In June of that year, Virginia’s governor announced a partnership among the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to research and develop driverless technology.
Several other states have debated legislation, but their laws often conflict with the nature of driverless technology. For example, many states call for a licensed driver behind the wheel before a vehicle can operate. Moreover, laws related to seatbelts, unattended vehicles, hands on steering wheels and licensing requirements raise questions about legislating the technology. Whether state legislatures approve the federal government’s proposed guidelines remains to be seen.
Eric Martins, Managing Director of DMGS thinks that “if states do not adopt uniform legislation, a patchwork of laws could make autonomous driving through state lines a major challenge for driverless vehicles. This, of course, would be a terrible setback for both consumers, industry, and regulators. Crafting smart legislation and regulations will be key to making this technology thrive.”
Enacted Autonomous Vehicle Legislation
California (CA SB 1298)—Establishes safety and performance standards to be overseen by California Department of Motor Vehicles and the Highway Patrol. Also allows autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roads (2012).
Florida (HB 1207)—Defines autonomous drivers and driverless technology. Also allows a licensed driver to operate an autonomous vehicle with insurance (2012). HB 7027–Eliminates the requirement that a driver be present in the vehicle. Requires autonomous vehicles meet applicable federal safety standards and regulations (2016). HB 7061–Defines autonomous technology and driver-assistive truck platooning technology. Requires a study on the use and safe operation of driver-assistive truck platooning technology and allows for a pilot project upon conclusion of the study.
Louisiana (HB 1143)—Defines autonomous technology (2016)
Michigan (MI S 169 and 663)—Defines automated vehicle technology and modes, and limits the liability an automated driver manufacturer faces in a lawsuit (2013). (SB 995-998)–Allows people to purchase autonomous vehicles upon availability. It also permits autonomous cars without steering wheels and pedals, and it doesn’t require a human operator (2016).
Nevada (NV AB 511) Permits the operation of autonomous vehicles for licensed drivers, and directs the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to adopt rules for license endorsement and for operation, including insurance, safety standards and testing in relation to driverless vehicles (2011). (NV SB 140) Permits the use of wireless handheld devices in a legally operated driverless vehicle (2011). (NV SB 313) Requires an autonomous vehicle to have insurance (2013).
Nevada regulations currently require two people in a driverless car that is being tested, which can only occur in approved areas. However, regulators have begun revamping policy for autonomous vehicles in non-testing environments.
North Dakota (ND HB 1065) Commissioned a study to research the implications of autonomous driving in relation to reducing crashes, fatalities and traffic congestion (2015).
Tennessee (TN SB 598) Prohibits local governments from banning vehicles equipped with autonomous driving technology (2015). (TN SB 1561) Establishes a program through the Department of the Safety that would certify autonomous vehicle manufactures before, they could be tested, sold or operated in the State. It also creates a per mile tax structure for driverless vehicles (2016).
Utah (HB 280) Requires certain state agencies to study autonomous vehicle technologies and best practices and report the findings. It also permits agencies to partner with driverless companies and entities (2016).
Washington, D.C. (DC B 19-0931) Defines autonomous driving and requires a prepared human driver to take control of the vehicle in an emergency. It also addresses the liability of the original manufacturer of a converted vehicle (2013)
Introduced Autonomous Vehicle Legislation in 2016
Alabama (S 178) Requires testing of autonomous technology with approval by the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency. Also requires each driverless vehicle to carry insurance and “authorizes the agency to create a driver’s license endorsement and require testing.” Status: Failed
California (A 1592) Authorizes the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to conduct a pilot project for to test autonomous vehicles that are not equipped with a steering wheel, a brake pedal, an accelerator, or an operator inside the vehicle Status: Sent to the Governor.
Georgia (S 113) Classified autonomous vehicles and technology with specific provisions. Would allow the operation of autonomous vehicles for testing Status: Failed.
Hawaii (H 2687) Authorizes autonomous vehicles for research and testing purposes. Requires the Department of Transportation to establish an application process to report to the legislature annually. Status: Failed.
(S 630) Requires certain safety features and testing requirements for autonomous vehicles. Also requires an autonomous vehicle operator to hold a driver’s license. Status: Failed.
Illinois: (H 3136) Creates the Automated Motor Vehicle Study and Report Act to be done by the Secretary of State. The feasibility study will cover and record automated vehicle operations. Status: Passed House. In Senate. Placed on Calendar Order Third Reading. Pending Carryover.
Massachusetts (H 4321) Authorizes autonomous vehicles without human operators. Status: In House Committee on Ways and Means.
(S 1841) Defines autonomous vehicles and permits autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads if the vehicle manufacturer meets all safety standards. Status: Pending, Senate Study Order.
Maryland (H 8 & S 126) Establishes a task force that was used to research driverless vehicles and determine the best path for governing autonomous vehicles. Status: Failed.
Michigan (S 927 & S 928) Prohibits and provides penalties for accessing a computer system that operates a vehicle with intent of doing harm or damage. The proposed legislation also provides penalties for such action. Status: Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.
(S 995 & S 996) Allows for driverless vehicles to operate without a person in the car. Status: Passed Senate. In House Committee on Communications and Technology.
(S 997 & 998) Defines automated driving and allows for the creation of mobility research centers where automated technology can be tested. Provides immunity for automated technology manufacturers when modifications are made without the manufacturer’s consent. Exempts mechanics and repair shops from liability on fixing automated vehicles. Status: Passed Senate. In House Committee on Communications and Technology.
Minnesota (H 3325 & S 2569) Establishes autonomous vehicles task force and demonstration project to serve mobility needs of people with disabilities; provides support for the task force; defines terms; appropriates money. Status: Failed
New Jersey (A 554) Requires self-driving vehicles to have ignition interlock device Status: In Assembly Committee on Law and Public Safety
(A 851 & S 343) Directs Motor Vehicle Commission to establish driver’s license endorsement for autonomous vehicles. Status: In Assembly Committee on Transportation and Independent Authorities/the Senate Committee on Transportation.
(A 3745) Permits testing and use of autonomous vehicles on state roadways under certain circumstances. Status: In Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.
New York (A 31) Provides and regulates the operation and testing of vehicles with autonomous technology. Status: To Assembly Committee on Transportation.
(A 10586) Directs a study and report on autonomous vehicles on highways. Also directs the commissioner of the Department of Transportation to support such testing and operation. Status: In Assembly Committee on Transportation
(S 7879) Specifies the law requiring one hand on the steering wheel does not apply if autonomous technology is engaged to perform the steering function. Passed Senate. Pending in Assembly Committee on Transportation.
Pennsylvania (H 2203) Defines terms related to autonomous vehicles. Regulates the testing of autonomous vehicles. Allows the adoption of regulations dealing with autonomous vehicles. Status: In House Rules Committee.
(S 1268) Provides for autonomous and connected vehicles. Status: In Senate Transportation Committee.
Rhode Island (S 2514) Would permit the use of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology on Rhode Island roads. Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee
- Obama, Barack. “Barack Obama: Self-Driving, Yes, But Also Safe.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Pittsburgh) September 19, 2016. http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2016/09/19/Barack-Obama-Self-driving-yes-but-also-safe/stories/201609200027
“Secretary Foxx unveils President Obama’s FY17 budget proposal of nearly $4 billion for automated vehicles and announces DOT initiatives to accelerate vehicle safety innovations.” Nhtsa.gov. January 14. 2016. http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/dot-initiatives-accelerating-vehicle-safety-innovations-01142016
Kang, Cecilia. “Self-Driving Cars Gain Powerful Ally: The Government.” The New York Times. (New York) September 19, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/20/technology/self-driving-cars-guidelines.html?_r=1
Plungis, Jeff. “Self-Driving Cars Must Meet 15 Benchmarks in U.S. Guidance.” Bloomberg Government. September 20, 2016. https://www.bgov.com/core/news/#!/articles/ODT8KW6JIJVF?niReferrerLink=homepageFeed
Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. “Self-Driving Coalition Reacts to NHTSA Autonomous Vehicles Guidance.” September 19, 2016. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/self-driving-coalition-reacts-to-nhtsa-autonomous-vehicles-guidance-300330616.html
National Conference of State Legislatures. “Autonomous Self-Driving Vehicles Legislation.” September 13, 2016. http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/autonomous-vehicles-legislation.aspx
National Conference of State Legislatures.
Coy, Brian. “Governor McAuliffe Announces New Partnership to Make Virginia a Leader in Automated-Vehicle Industry.” Office of the Governor. June 2, 2015. https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/newsarticle?articleId=8526
LaFrance, Adrienne. “Anybody Can Test a Driverless Car in Pennsylvania.” The Atlantic. (Washington, D.C.) September 14, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/anybody-can-test-a-self-driving-car-in-pennsylvania/499667/
National Conference of State Legislatures